Why CBD and cannabis companies should think digital first – despite the restrictions

Terms like “mobile first” and “digital first” have been flying around the retail space for a while. But since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the shift seems to be decisive. What does this mean for CBD brands? What makes the web such an exciting space to sell CBD, despite advertising restrictions? Let’s take a closer look.

A bleak future for UK retail 

The fact that buyers rescuing Debenhams and Arcadia didn’t want to keep their 500 shops shows the deep depths of the high street crisis. Around 25,000 people are likely to lose their jobs. And there will be the physical scars too: according to Altus Group, Debenhams and Arcadia occupied 1.4m square feet of retail space – that’s 194 Premier League football pitches.

The coronavirus pandemic has, without doubt, turned up the pressure. The last 18 months have been a brutal period for high street retailers. But many were already struggling as more and more consumers moved online – attracted by the comfort, convenience (and now safety) of ordering from an armchair, sofa or even bed.

While things are looking bleak for the UK’s biggest private employment sector, online the story is very different. Last year saw huge 46.5% year-over-year (YoY) growth in ecommerce sales in the UK. eMarketer predicts growth of 20.5% in 2021.

Although Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted and UK high streets reopened, the future is uncertain. Many of us have got used to the convenience of online shopping. Our habits have shifted, and it looks like there’s no going back. Brands need to adapt – including CBD ones. 

Brick-and-mortar challenges for CBD

For CBD brands, there are also some industry-specific circumstances to consider when deciding if a digital-first strategy is the right move. Even pre-Covid, when the high street was a little more bustling, it wasn’t easy for CBD brands to convince retailers to showcase their products. Unclear CBD regulations meant that, initially, many shops simply didn’t want to take the risk. 

As more research about the benefits of CBD was released, big UK names like Boots and Holland & Barrett jumped aboard. However, they were – and still are – picky about which CBD brands they worked with. This means, amongst other things, high sales volumes and a clearly defined corporate structure. Criteria that don’t necessarily fit with fledgling startups at the beginning of their CBD journey. 

What’s more, there are also downsides to non-ecommerce retail from a customer perspective. Until we see more dedicated CBD stores, like the CBD Store UK in Sheffield, non-specialist retailers like Boots can’t offer customers the benefit of deep knowledge and expertise. Or advice in choosing the right CBD product. Nor can customers sample CBD products from the limited ranges available in store. Thus, eliminating one of the main advantages of bricks and mortar. 

Some customers may feel reassured buying from a well-known shop like Boots, rather than an unknown website. However, high street shops don’t provide 3rd party lab reports, making it harder to access information about the origin and composition of the CBD. A trusted website or marketplace, like mellow, not only vets the CBD brands, but also ensures labs reports are available to download. 

Embracing digital 

Selling online clearly has major advantages for brands and consumers alike. As we live more and more of our lives online, it’s only natural for brands to follow. Social media has become a powerful tool for sharing information, ideas, advice… and for brands to get out of the starting blocks (vs. expensive print or TV campaigns) without breaking the bank. 

As explored in our recent social media article, many social platforms have a rather ambiguous view of CBD and create barriers when it comes to creating ads. However, they remain an ideal place to create an organic following based on a value-adding, let’s-learn-together approach to CBD, underpinned by customer stories and influencers.  

Today, influencers are one of the main forces shaping the way we view brands and products – including CBD. Forget paid celebrity placements, we’re talking about famous and totally unknown CBD fans who believe in CBD and share their views with thousands or millions of followers. This kind of publicity has the potential to go viral and makes it possible for quality-conscious brands with great products to break through the noise.  

Opting for a digital-first strategy is open to all CBD brands – regardless of size, budget, or sales. If you’re just starting out, it gets you off the ground quickly without needing to invest vast amounts in advertising or convincing reluctant high street retailers. Even for more established brands, the online CBD space is full of opportunities as more and more of us shop, share and look for information online. 

If you’re interested in going digital or optimising your existing strategy, don’t hesitate to contact us to find out how we can help with both organic social growth and paid media.

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